More than three years in, there are signs that Venture for America has staying power in Baltimore.
The national program that places college grads at startups is looking to place another 15-20 fellows in Baltimore this year with some new startups who haven’t had VFA fellows before. Recently, VFA also held a job fair in the city that brought out about 200 companies. Though he made the move on his own, former Philly fellow James Fayal even decided to move his tea startup here.
But since this is an entrepreneur-focused program, perhaps the most telling sign of the program’s impact may come from what the fellows themselves are creating. Their two-year commitment is over, but many members of the initial 2013 VFA class stayed in Baltimore. They’re finding more influential roles that in some cases are literally about building new community resources.
One useful lens comes on June 11, when the table is set for the second Remington Chop. Following last year’s debut, there’s a new trio of VFA fellows organizing the bigger daylong mix of culinary education and biergarten, showing how VFA can impact the community beyond those two-year terms.
“We’re hoping it will become an event that is continued and passed down to and from VFA Fellows every year,” said Jamie Norwood, a 2015 fellow who moved to Baltimore after graduating Tulane University and works at Hungry Harvest.
For Michigan native Sarah Greenwood, who works as a data analyst at Eyemaginations by day, the event was a place to get involved in the community. Such involvement is a key message of Venture for America, but how the fellows approach that is largely up to them.
“Work is always rewarding, but there’s something extra special about getting out there and meeting people, bringing them together, and making something awesome happen,” she said. Mark Chu, who works at SmartLogic, is also on the organizing team.
Though they passed the event on to the next class, most the founding team isn’t far. After all, they’re still foodies. Dmitri Fautsch now works in New Orleans, but we checked in with a few other VFA members who stayed in Baltimore:
- Peter DiPrinzio moved on from Pixelligent to helm R. House, a forthcoming Remington food incubator that’s hosting the event. The two efforts have a closely related mission. “The Chop is about making it as easy as possible for chefs to teach workshops about topics they love, and R. House is making it as easy as possible for them to open new restaurant concepts in a unique, collaborative space,” DiPrinzio said.
- Adam Rhoades-Brown is also helming a redevelopment project. Having started in VFA with Vigilant Medical, the Stony Brook, N.Y., native moved onto Cross Street Partners where he is now a project manager. In that role, he’s working on the redevelopment of the Hoen Lithograph Building in East Baltimore. Of Cross Street Partners’ founder Bill Streuver, Rhoades-Brown said, “His energy and enthusiasm for revitalizing cities is what got me excited about real estate.”
- Moss Amer remained with TEDCO, but has moved up to a bigger role managing the agency’s new Maryland Venture Fund portfolio.
- She was not a Remington Chop organizer, but we had to check in with Baltimore’s first VFA fellow, Clara Gustafson. She also stayed in the city. She also took on more responsibility at her initial VFA company, ZeroFOX, where she was the first non-technical employee. Now she works as business enablement manager. “I enjoy the fast-paced, efficiency-oriented and always-on nature of ZeroFOX, and I love the down-to-earth, friendly and open nature of Baltimore,” said the D.C. native.
Along with job opportunities, they’ve found support through the startup community that helps keep them in a town that wants young tech workers. But as Remington Chop shows, once here they’ve also taken to the message of doing stuff without word from above that comes with it.
The current and former fellows’ community involvement “is not top down, but it requires initiative,” DiPrinzio said. “I’d say the vast majority of the organization comes from fellows — and some from our awesome VFA Baltimore board who puts together some great events.”
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